Why The Best Bosses Encourage Their Employees To Say ‘No’
Let’s all get comfortable with pushing back on bad ideas.
When’s the last time you told your boss that you thought something they asked you to do wasn’t a good use of your time? In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, New York Times bestselling author Diana Kander argues that it’s exactly what you need to do if you want to do your best work — and that bosses need to empower their staffers to feel comfortable speaking their minds.
Kander’s basic assertion is that in today’s workplaces, we’re so busy worrying about being liked that we fail to stand our ground when non-essential projects take up too much space on our to-do lists. Instead of thinking critically about whether an ask is really worth our time and effort, we automatically say ‘yes.’
“When people are afraid to turn down noncritical projects, good ideas get smothered. Without the ability to say ‘no’ to low-level tasks in order to say ‘yes’ to groundbreaking ones, people stop innovating,” she writes.
Every professional has probably experienced this at some point — you have at least one big project on your plate but smaller tasks with smaller potential pay-offs keep slowing you down. It’s so common that Kander notes, “when I speak at a company with a strong ‘yes’ culture, I ask the employees to close their eyes and raise their hands if they are currently working on a project that they don’t believe will be successful — something they don’t believe will accomplish its goals. Every time, a majority of the hands go up.”
Kander offers a few ways to create a work culture where people are encouraged to speak up when they don’t think a task is a priority, including establishing a numerical “value system” where projects are ranked according to importance. She also suggests creating metrics that can give companies a sense of whether a given project will pan out. The goal there is to answer two key questions, Kander writes: “When will we know if this doesn’t work, and how will we know?’
Her most exciting idea though, is rewarding employees for saying no. “Give people credit and kudos not just for the great ideas they greenlit, but also for the middling ideas they passed up,” she writes.
No matter what approach you take, the most important thing is to stop blindly saying yes to every work request. And if you’re manager, you have to create an environment where your direct reports feel comfortable pushing back. Give people the power to say no and watch the great ideas take shape.
Read more on HBR.